Friday, March 31, 2006

OSHA History According To Former Administrator John Henshaw

I hate to beat a dead horse -- or a retired OSHA administrator -- but former Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, John Henshaw, in an interview with the American Society of Safety Engineers, is trying to change history. And such dasterdly deeds demand to be exposed:
Once at OSHA, Henshaw's vision to create a more customer-responsive agency began to take shape. It was a strategy borne largely out of the political climate surrounding regulations at that time, especially the buzz created by the repeal of the ergonomics rulemaking under the Congressional Review Act.

"Any person coming in [to head OSHA] has to take stock of the current environment. What does the universe look like? What are the powers and influences happening right now? When I took over, Congress had flexed its muscles on the ergonomics rulemaking and the economy was faltering. I realized if we followed the model of jamming it down somebody's throat, we'd be beating our heads against the wall. I knew we'd be called up to Congress constantly to defend ourselves, which would consume a lot of our resources.
First, "Congress had flexed its muscles on the ergonomics rulemaking and the economy was faltering." Take a look at history, John. Industry (and its "friends" in Congress) have tried to flex their muscles with every rulemaking in OSHA's history, whatever the state of the economy at the time. The state of the economy has nothing whatsoever to do with industry's opposition to OSHA standards. Its a control issue. They don't want no government agency telling them what to do. And if you for industry support before issuing any standards, OSHA might as well go out of the standard-setting business -- which is what they've done.

Then there's this:
"In addition to Congress feeling it could stop or at least slow regulations, there was nothing in the pipeline. The previous administration had used most of its resources on ergonomics, so we knew it would take a while to build things up and get things done."
"There was nothing in the pipeline?" Hello? What about the almost completed tuburculosis standard, which you later withdrew? And then there was the almost completed standard that would have required employers to pay for their employees' gloves, boots and other personal protective equipment. It's still sitting there, in the pipeline, without being finalized, more than five years later.

And this:
Voluntary efforts, partnerships and alliances are another part of the puzzle Henshaw focused on. And, although many said the agency didn't have the resources to pull it off, Henshaw reports that the agency added no staff and still did all the alliances, VPP activities and partnerships. "Our folks found the time because they saw there was real value in this. They saw that much more is getting done, that is it getting done on a voluntary basis and that the people doing it are owning it," he explains. "They also like people calling them in and asking for opinions and help. Before, people didn't want to talk to the agency. Now, OSHA people are sought after. Everyone responds to that."
Actually, even the Government Accounting Office says OSHA doesn't have anough resources to "pull it off." A 2004 GAO report found that not only were your planned expansion of OSHA's voluntary efforts inevitably going to cut into the enforcement budget, but there was no evidence that OSHA's voluntary efforts were effictive in preventing workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities.

At least he recognizes some reality:
As to criticism that OSHA has lost some of its enforcement teeth as a result of this approach, Henshaw says that to big companies OSHA has always been a "drop in the bucket, a small fly on the wall." He adds, "For most cases [with large companies], OSHA doesn't have enough muscle from the statute standpoint. The agency doesn't have the kinds of fines and penalties found in other agencies. I'm not saying OSHA should, but the agency is not going to fine a large company into doing something right."
But is the administration advocating higher penalties to correct this situation? In your dreams.

Henshaw says that before he got there, "people" didn't want to talk to the agency. Actually, I was there and plenty of people wanted to talk to the agency all the time. The difference now is that plenty of industry people are talking and talking about alliances and other voluntary efforts, but not doing much else. Meanwhile, the agency has made a point of not talking to certain "people" -- like workers and labor representatives.

Finally, Henshaw doesn't seem to be giving a ringing endorsement to Ed Foulke who has now taken Henshaw's place at the helm of OSHA:
Henshaw credits his SH&E (safety, health and environmental) background with helping him be an effective leader at OSHA. In fact, he believes the agency needs a transformational leader, and that means having an SH&E professional at the helm. "I strongly believe that an SH&E person should be the head of OSHA," he says. "If we view OSHA as only a regulatory agency, one that simply goes through the process of setting and enforcing standards, then you don't need an SH&E professional. You just need someone who knows the bureaucracy, knows the legal issues and goes about doing the tasks. That's a transactional leader, someone who just follows the process, doesn't interject anything, has no real passion for the issues.
Foulke an attorney. Enough said.